The Day I Met Freya North
I was nineteen when I read my first book by Freya North. The book was Fen. I almost didn’t read it, because of the cover…
I can still remember like it was only yesterday how I felt after I’d finished reading Fen. I was heartbroken, completely heartbroken. Not because of the actual ending, but because Fen, Matt, James, Abi, Gemma, Django, Pip and Cat weren’t around anymore. They’d become part of my world and every day I’d dip into theirs. I didn’t feel right for days, maybe even weeks, and tried on several occasions to carry the story on in my head just so I got to think about the characters for a bit longer.
Fen, 28, has only ever been in love with one man. Julius Featherstone – a nineteenth century artist – she adores his sculptures. Unfortunately Fen’s sisters are left pulling their hair out over their sister’s choice of man and think it’s time she found herself a proper man. Fen starts a new job – probably the best job in the world (for her anyway). Through her job Fen meets Matt and James and soon realizes she is falling for both of them. Both men though are so very different and eventually Fen has to choose. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve read it. It’s funny, sexy (very sexy in places), heart-warming, and honest and to put it simply a bloody good read. If you’ve not read it, I suggest you do. Immediately.
It was in Fen that I was introduced to the McCabes – Fen, Cat and Pip – three sisters and their rock Django. I don’t come from a particularly close family; so reading about the McCabe’s used to make my heart swell just imagining what that must be like. To have a support network like that it must be incredible. To have people on your side, looking out for you, wanting only the best for you, protecting you and knowing those things that make you you. Knowing the signs to look out for which indicate all is not OK. To know those people exist whom you can ring at any hour and I mean any hour. These women adore one another; it’s as simple as that. Their lives are entwined and if one of them needs help they’re all there, no matter what. No questions asked. Freya North wrote not only Fen, but she also wrote Pip and Cat and through these three books I was allowed to watch the relationship of these three sisters evolve and strengthen. Then in 2006 Freya allowed us to catch up with the McCabe’s in Home Truths – this book looks at the mother daughter relationship, their family as they know it, and the families they are beginning to create.
For most of my twenties I’ve been focused on my career. To put it bluntly it’s all I’ve known and it was my way of escaping and making my life better for myself. So when I was asked about my future and if I would one day want a family/children the thought would bring me out in a cold sweat. I couldn’t imagine myself ever having a family. I thought women were mad ruining their careers to have children. Yes, I just said that and at one point I actually thought that way. To say I was lacking in family values is an understatement. I’ve grown up surrounded by friends with close families and often thought how suffocating it all looked.
You’re probably aware if you’ve read this blog, in 2011 my life was turned upside down after being diagnosed with bowel cancer at age 27. When you’re forced to look your own mortality in the eyes you start to question everything. I’ve questioned my career, friends, family, future, relationships, opinions, taste in clothes, diet, everything. Everything has been ripped to pieces, and some of it has been put back on the list, which matters. There have been a lot of questions asked and the one person who has helped me make sense of a lot of my crap is my Counsellor. It’s taken me twenty-nine years to say some stuff out loud and openly admit things. What she also ended up doing was making me realise what really matters to me. It turns out one of those things is family. It is so incredibly important to me. I want to feel like I belong. I want to have a group of people in my life that I trust with my life and where there is respect, honesty, flexibility, generosity, curiosity, communication, responsibility and also tradition. I want that closeness. My Counsellor wanted me to tell her what I think a family should be like. I went away and thought about it and returned a week later with a copy of Fen and I explained the relationship between Pip, Cat, Fen and Django is family to me. It’s what I would want. You may think I am bonkers but Freya North made me understand what a family should be and has helped me realise deep down I want people in my life who I adore and trust and who feel the same way about me. This could actually be applied to all relationships in my life.
Last year after reading Chances, which was Freya’s latest book I looked her up on Facebook. I dropped her a note to say how much I had liked the book and how it had kept me sane during chemo and radiotherapy. I’d got my fix of romance even when I felt so far removed from reality. Freya then contacted me privately and sent me a beautiful message to let me know she was thinking of me. We then exchanged several more messages and eventually I told her that Chances had been a trip down memory lane for me. Part of the book is set around Muswell Hill and that was where my ex boyfriend had lived when we were together, so when I was reading about the John Baird pub in her book I was able to imagine myself there.
Over the last year Freya has kept in touch with me and often put a big grin on my face with messages, letters and surprise parcels. I will never forget the day my parent’s visited me in hospital and brought with them an envelope that had arrived for me. Inside was a short story called Fish and Chips which is the script for her first short story for radio which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in spring of 2009, which was then self published as a limited edition, numbered and signed book. I was so incredibly down at this point after two lots of major surgery and feeling like I was never going to get better. Such a kind gesture lifted my spirits and gave me something to focus on other than the hell I was in.
It’s quite safe to say I am a massive fan of Freya’s writing. I’ve read her books over and over again and am all ready excited that the next novel is in progress. But over the last year or so our messages back and forth have got longer and longer. I used to wish that I could meet up with her and spend the afternoon with her, talking and giggling. So imagine my excitement a couple of months ago when I was sat at my desk at work and an email came through from Marie Claire. Selling tickets to attend the “How to get published” event with guest writer Freya North. I’d booked the ticket straight away, and wonder even now what my colleagues thought I was looking at when booking the ticket based on the squeals and hand clapping coming from my desk. I don’t want to get published, but I did want to say hello to Freya face to face and say thank you for everything she had done for me over the last year.
So on Monday 30 July 2012 I made my way into London and met Freya. It felt like I was seeing a friend I hadn’t seen in ages. We found ourselves a comfy sofa and then we just talked. It was a perfect afternoon and I could have sat with her all afternoon and into the evening talking about absolutely everything.
Then later on we made our way over to Marie Claire where I listened to Freya give a talk to a roomful of writers – all keen to get published. Freya spoke beautifully and clearly, and made so much sense. For a second she made me consider writing a book. Her advice was spot on and I heard the room breathe a sigh of relief when she explained there’s no right or wrong way, and if something is working for you, go with it. Oh and to not give up. Also on the panel was Freya’s agent Jonathan Lloyd from Curtis Brown, Thalia Suzuma, Fiction Editor from Harper Collins and Associate Features Editor from Marie Claire Miranda McMinn. It was a brilliant evening and I learnt loads. It was rather lovely listening to all the writers in the room whispering and discussing what they were working on. Marie Claire certainly knows how to put on an event. Oh and the goody bag was too good.
I’ve never felt comfortable with the idea that having this illness has taught me lessons or given me something positive. I can’t see the positive in an illness like this, I just can’t. I’d like to think I would have worked out what I really want out of life even if I’d never been ill. I’m just very glad I figured it out before it was too late to do anything about it. Freya North had all ready planted the seed, I just needed to figure the rest out for myself and I have. Right now I just feel very lucky. There’s so much I want to say about Monday, but actually on reflection it was such a special day and actually quite private I don’t want to put it all on the blog. What I will say about that day is I met Freya North, the writer and I got to be a fan but also that day I met someone very special who I hope will be a friend for life. A friend who has supported me more than she will ever realise. So thank you, F, for everything – your writing, support, love and friendship.
Now, if you haven’t read any of Freya North’s books I suggest you go out and get yourself one of her twelve titles (or just all of them) and see for yourself just how fab she is.